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by Ralph Burr

The Greek prefix neo indicates that some “new” meaning has been added to the familiar word “conservative.” It is a modifier of the basic word, just as the adjective “compassionate” was Bush’s attempt in the 2000 presidential campaign to soften the public’s unflattering perception of conservatives. The latter was a meaningless hoax, but the former is real and significant, and indicates a major change in the history and practice of conservatism in this country.

The “godfather” of neoconservatism is widely understood to be Irving Kristol. He was part of the so-called “New York Intellectuals,” a leftist group of social and literary critics mainly of East European Jewish descent that began to coalesce against the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s. Late in that decade he studied at City College of New York where he became a Communist, specifically a Trotskyite, largely as a reaction against fascism. From 1947 to 1952, he was managing editor of Commentary magazine, founded in 1945 by the American Jewish Committee as a liberal journal of opinion but now regarded as the “neocon bible.”

By the late 1960s, Kristol had shifted from left to right on the political spectrum, due partly to what he considered to be the inexcusable excesses and latent anti-Americanism of some members of the liberal establishment. He built the intellectual framework of neoconservatism, founding and editing journals such as The Public Interest and The National Interest. Kristol is now a fellow at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington and author of numerous books, including Neo-Conservatism: The Autobiography of an Idea. He is the father of the Weekly Standard editor and oft-quoted neocon William Kristol (not to be confused with the actor Billy Crystal).

Other early and current neocons were:

— Leo Strauss at the University of Chicago, and Albert Wohlstetter at the Rand Corporation;

— Norman Podhoretz, who also edited Commentary for a time;

— William F. Buckley, a precocious conservative who founded the journal National Review in 1955, which was originally a “traditional” conservative publication but which has increasingly adopted neo attitudes;

— Fred Barnes, who along with William Kristol edits The Weekly Standard, which, since its founding in 1995, has unabashedly encouraged the cultivation of an American empire;

— Martin Peretz, editor of The New Republic, an intellectual journal going back to 1914 which has swung from liberalism to neoconservatism’s muscular, pro-Israel, pro-interventionist U.S. foreign policy.

— Other influential neocon voices include Midge Decter, Charles Krauthammer, Richard Perle, and Daniel Pipes.

Some neocon think tanks
— American Enterprise Institute, founded in 1943, and now regarded as the “headquarters,” so to speak, of neoconservative thought (Bush has placed more than 20 of its people in prominent positions in his administration);

— Project for the New American Century, established “to promote American global leadership,” has repeatedly called for a “Reaganite foreign policy of military strength and moral clarity;”

— Center for Security Policy regards itself as a “main battle tank in the war of ideas on national security.”




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